SpaceX Crew-5 Splashes Down Off Coast of Florida

SpaceX’s Crew-5 splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico, near Tampa, Florida, at 9:02 pm EST. It had undocked early this morning and spent several hours orbiting Earth and performing systems checks on their Crew Dragon, Endurance. This marks the end of the crew’s 157-day mission, which included more than five months on the International Space Station.

Crew-5’s final duties included a brief handover period with Crew-6, which had docked to the International Space Station on Friday. Crew-6 will spend a similar time period on the space station.

Crew-5 included NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, JAXA astronaut Koichi Wakata, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina.

Kikina flew on the Crew Dragon as part of a deal between NASA and Roscosmos. Cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev is serving on Crew-6 as part of the same deal.

The recovery ship Shannon is working on securing the Crew Dragon used by Crew-6 to ensure that it is safe to hoist up to Shannon’s main deck. The work includes two fast boats designed to make a closer approach.

NASA expects to conduct a medical exam to make sure the crew is relatively healthy before flying them back to Houston. Space station crews frequently need a recovery period to get back on their feet after spending five to six months on the International Space Station. The crews typically experience symptoms like loss of balance, bone density, and muscle during the multi-month missions. They may also experience changes to their senses of sight and taste.

Several biomedical experiments on the International Space Station have involved studying the health effects of microgravity during long-duration missions. The data produced will help formulate new techniques for mitigating the health-related effects on other mission concepts like journeys to Mars.

Crew-5 notably had to modify Endurance to accommodate five people in case of an emergency evacuation. The alterations included moving a seat cover from a Russian Soyuz docked to the space station to the Crew Dragon.

The Soyuz had sprung a leak that caused it to lose most of its coolant. The leak also forced the crew to cut an EVA short. Russia’s Roscosmos has sent a replacement Soyuz since then.

Crew-5 was the sixth crewed flight in SpaceX’s Commercial Crew program. NASA has extended the contract to account for delays in Boeing’s development of the similar Starliner spacecraft and diplomatic tensions with Russia.

SpaceX also conducts private missions like a series of private missions to the space station organized by Axiom Space. Axiom Space is currently preparing to send inflatable modules to the International Space Station. Its modules will eventually spin off to form part of a privately owned space station that NASA can rent space on.